Saturday, November 14, 2015

BSO — 2015/11/12-14

Another week, another premiere by the Boston Symphony. This time, it's not merely the American premiere, but the world premiere that they'll give. The work in question is titled Aube, and it's by young Jean-Frédéric Neuburger. Then we step back in time for Bartók's Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta. After the intermission, the orchestra and guest conductor Christoph von Dohnányi are joined by pianist Martin Helmchen for the masterful Piano Concerto № 5, "Emperor," by Beethoven. The orchestra's performance detail page adds a bit more to my description with the following:
Frequent BSO guest conductor Christoph von Dohnányi leads the world premiere of Aube ("Dawn"), a BSO-commissioned work by the celebrated 28-year-old French composer Jean-Frédéric Neuburger. Neuburger's compositional voice is rooted in the brilliant colors and energy of his French predecessors from Ravel to Boulez. An iconic 20th-century masterpiece, Bartók's Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta epitomizes the composer's genius for mood and form. To close the program, German pianist Martin Helmchen plays Beethoven's majestic and high-spirited Emperor Concerto.
Join the conversation online by using #BSOEmperor for this concert series or #BSO1516 on your social networks to discover the excitement of the season and connect with one another!

As you scroll down the page, there are also the usual links to the BSO Media Center, with its podcasts, performer bios, program notes, and audio previews.

The Boston Musical Intelligencer presents a gushing review. The reviewer's analysis of the pieces in the concert could be read alongside the program notes and audio previews. His interpretation of their cosmic significance is unexpected, but not unprecedented in music reviews. The Globe has a very favorable review, devoted mostly to the new piece — which the reviewer liked — but with praise for the performance of the remaining works as well.

My take on what I heard Thursday evening is at once less analytic and less expansive. "Aube" was not unpleasant to listen to, although there were no clear, sustained "tunes" that I recall. It was clearly an organized succession of sounds (unlike some of the truly unpleasant stuff I've occasionally sat through), so it fits the definition of music. I didn't really "get it" on that first hearing. The question of whether there's anything there to get can only be answered with further hearings, so I'm looking forward to hearing it again on Saturday. The composer was warmly applauded (and applauded the orchestra), but didn't seem to want to remain on stage and bask  in it. About the Bartók I'll say I was pleasantly surprised at how listenable it was. The program note spoke at length about how the first movement takes a theme and moves it around the "circle of fifths," starting with A and ending with E flat, and then goes back to A with the theme inverted. Listening to it, I couldn't have told you that either of those things was happening, which tells you something about how untrained my ear is, and perhaps how skillfully Bartók works it.

Beethoven's "Emperor" Concerto is one of my favorite pieces. When I went to college, my freshman roommate had a recording of the "Emperor," Van Cliburn I think, that he'd put on his record player every Sunday morning. The machine had a defect: when it finished playing a side, it would return the needle to a point one inch in from the edge, over and over. The result was that Sunday after Sunday I'd hear multiple repeats of the last 3/4 of the first movement. Once in a while he'd play the second side. It was wonderful to hear that great music so much. One time, when I was at the monastery, I put on a record of the "Emperor," and for some reason I found myself actually moved to tears a some point in the slow second movement. That hasn't happened again. My dad always loved the transition from the second to the third movement. When we had the record on during dinner, he'd silence us to listen to the quiet end of the 2nd and beginning of the 3rd and then the forte statement of the triumphant main theme — a masterful moment to be sure.

I liked the performance on Thursday. There wasn't anything truly outstanding that I noticed. One thing I liked was that the pianist varied his dynamics very well. Soft passages, in particular, were really soft. Of course the loud parts were really loud as well. Overall, it was great music, beautifully presented.

You can listen on line or on air via WCRB at 8:00 p.m. EST (Boston Time, as I call it) today, November 14, with a repeat broadcast/webstream on Monday the 23rd, also at 8:00. The station's BSO page gives a link to their audio feature "The Answered Question," which this week includes interview material with conductor and pianist.

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